Ohio State football gets back on track, benefits from youth movement

The Ohio State football team appeared to turn the boat around after a shaky start to the 2021 season. The Buckeyes traveled to Piscataway and came away with a 52-13 victory over the Scarlet Knights.

While Ohio State has gotten into the habit of beating Rutgers easily in previous years, this game was meant to be different. Rutgers had just come out of a competitive battle with Michigan – a game they lost by just seven points and had a good chance of winning. Bettors have indicated that Schiano’s 3-1 Rutgers team is just a 15-point underdog, but history has repeated itself in the last edition of this series.

Young players find their rhythm

As the season progressed and Matt Barnes took over the play call duties from Kerry Coombs, the defense improved. Although against fewer opponents, the Silver Bullets are regaining a rhythm they did not have at the start. Most surprisingly, the resurgence has been driven largely by young talent in the field.

Freshman Denzel Burke is an aspiring defensive back star, providing stability to a high school student who desperately needed it. In Rutgers’ second practice, Burke was in a good position to make an interception on a spilled ball – an interception that would likely have been picked up by Cam Martinez had he been on target.

Ronnie Hickman continues to lead the defense from ball position, averaging over 8 tackles per game this season. He finished with 11 tackles on his return home Saturday and continues to fly around the field, tackle well in space and defend effectively in cover. He has been the anchor of defense and will need to continue producing as the unit grows.

Another bright spot in the defense was freshman Tyleik Williams. With four sacks this season, Williams leads the team and places third in the Big Ten. He plays with very high motor skills and showed an energy that was lacking in this defensive line given his expectations.

The offense clicks

After taking a week to rest his injured shoulder, CJ Stroud made his comeback on Saturday in style. He connected on 17 of 23 attempts for 330 yards and five touchdowns. By far his best completion percentage of the season, Stroud looked comfortable.

He benefited from effective play calls that helped Chris Olave and Garret Wilson exploit some of the area coverage Rutgers was showing. Plus, tight end Jeremy Ruckert has been used in a way we haven’t seen this season, as he made four catches for 40 yards and a touchdown.

Despite the weapons Stroud has in the air, it becomes apparent that this offense goes through TreVeyon Henderson. The true first-year running back scored on a 44-yard touchdown on the second play of the first offensive practice and is averaging 9.4 yards per carry. When your running back averages almost a first try every time he touches the ball, there is little reason to take the ball out of his hands.

Henderson will take on more and more workload as the Big Ten schedule progresses and is the backbone of this offense. The Ohio State football team is currently led by its young talents. Early indications show they are up to the challenge, but the question remains until Ohio State passes some of its toughest tests on the road.

About Michael Sample

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